TO SAY Coffs Harbour's citizen of the year David Stevens has experienced great highs and great lows doesn't fully explain the rollercoaster ride he's experienced this year.

Known widely for his astounding displays of Christmas lights at Macauleys Headland Dr and for his work to make the Coffs Coast more inclusive for people with disabilities, many have been shocked to discover he's currently battling a rare form of cancer.

Just weeks after being awarded the region's top civic honour, and days after being in Brisbane while his daughter underwent surgery, Mr Stevens was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus.

Mr Stevens spoke to the Advocate at the end of an intensive six-week course of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Yet in spite of how he was feeling, his message remained a giving one.

He wants everyone to know that having cancer is not the same as being dead.

"As I've been going through this journey, the thing I've found is the phone just stops ringing," he said.

"When you're diagnosed with something like this, people don't know what to say or what to do, so they say nothing, and that's the worst thing they can do."

He's not bitter about this reaction, he just wants people who know someone with cancer to keep in touch and treat them as exactly the same person - which they are.

Nobody could say he's a man who likes to sit still.

Mr Stevens is an advocate for many families on the Coffs Coast, president of Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome Australia, president of Coffs Coast Regional Disability Association, area representative of HeartKids NSW, and founding chairman of Special Olympics NSW North Coast Region just to name a few of his hats.

He's involved with so many groups aimed at helping others, that when it came to asking for help himself he discovered just how hard it could be.

"Everyone says, 'David do you need help?' but because I'm a giver by nature, to actually ask is not really in my vocabulary," Mr Stevens said.

"On behalf of our family, I just wanted to thank every-one for their kind thoughts and help so far."

Mr Stevens is no stranger to people feeling uncomfortable. His daughter has the rare Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome and he's seen the whole range of responses to people living with many conditions.

But it wasn't until he was diagnosed that he had experienced first-hand what it's like to feel excluded, for whatever reason.

But on the flipside, he also discovered the opposite could be true.

"Strangely enough you get people you hardly know knocking on your door and offering assistance," he said.

With three children under 8, he's been battling to keep some normality for his family, although he's said hospital visits were already somewhat normal for the many treatments his daughter needs. For now, his treatment is over until July, when doctors will assess its effectiveness with a view to surgically removing the tumour.

The operation is described as being equivalent to heart surgery, with months of recovery time at the end.

"I turn 50 in July and we know it's going to be a rough month, so we had a party at Cavanbah Hall recently.

"About 120 people showed up and we had it at the perfect time, because I went downhill after that.

"You have to be positive. This might sound silly to some people but when I first got diagnosed I went down to the Cancer Council and they gave me brochures and told me you have to have hope.

"For me hope is not the right word, it's more than that, you've got to have mind power and give whatever it takes."

As for his annual brightening of his neighbourhood, Mr Stevens is putting nothing on hold.

"We're still planning the Christmas lights; I've bought more. Last year people were parked three deep, you couldn't get through - and the people you meet and have a chat to, they open up and it's just fantastic."



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